Sandra Gal: Still Working on Staying in the Present

I interviewed Sandra Gal last year at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup about her ideas on mastery; how to get yourself to do what you know how to do. It was pretty extensive for such a short interview, but she was quite effusive and eager to be responsive.

So this year, when I saw that she was 4-under par through the 8th, I saddled up and raced out of the media center to catch her at the turn. But scoring was a little delayed; by the time I got out there, she had bogeyed the 9th and was well down the fairway on 10. 

The last time we spoke we were talking about how you play your shots, the mental side of the game. And so today was very interesting. I was in the media center and I saw that you were 4-under through 8, so pretty much on fire.

Yeah.

Did you hit your driver at all on the front?

[Laughs] It didn’t look like it, did it?

Well, I don’t know. I didn’t get out there until —

[Laughs] Why are you asking because —

Well, because you came through 9 and bogeyed that, right?

Yeah.

And I didn’t see you hit another driver until the end [18].

Well actually, I hit driver on 1 and 2 and I hit a lot of 3-woods just because —

Didn’t need to?

No, they were just going far. They were running out. They were kind of lower trajectory, so I just kind of adapted to the conditions. You know obviously my driver carries further, but it doesn’t run out. So that 3-wood was actually probably longer on a lot of the holes than the driver.

Yeah, I noticed that it’s good to be long. You know, you’re hitting 3-wood and they were hitting driver.

So how do you process the bogey on 9. Are you thinking “new nine?” Or are you just thinking, “Oh, that happens?”

Well, I was just trying to get it back. Because that bogey was a bit annoying. You know even though I was in the [fairway] bunker, I didn’t think I had that difficult of a shot. But I hit it fat, so then I left myself with a chip shot that wasn’t that straightforwad because there was a lot of fairway I had to cover and then had to check it up. So I decided to bump it and I left it short. So, you know, that was an unnecessary bogey. But, you know, that’s golf, so I tried to take it as, you know, that’s just golf. You know, I’m playing well, so focus on making more birdies.

I didn’t catch you until the 10th green. So I saw the putt there and you made your par. And then you made birdie on the next [par-5] hole and it was basically just cruising from there.

Yeah, yeah. I think I still left probably like three birdie chances out there that I should have made.

That one little putt on, what was it, 13?

Yeah, that one. The par-5 15th. And actually, my second hole, I had a really good birdie chance that I missed. But, you know, that’s how it is. Maybe I can get it tomorrow. But you just gotta be patient and not let yourself down when you miss a putt, because that’s golf.

So you just try to maintain being calm?

Yeah, maintain the same kind of attitude, you know. If you’re playing bad or you’re playing good, it’s important to just hit the next shot as if nothing happened before, you know?

And so how long does it take you to get the point where you can play that way? How many years?

[Laughs] Well, it’s a work in progress.

[Laughs] Well, it always is, right?

I think the one guy who probably does it best is Jason Dufner. You know, he doesn’t look like — you can’t tell how he’s playing, good, bad. So that’s kind of —

You just want to get a smile out of that guy, right?

Right, yeah. I think I’m a little bit more emotional like, as in, I get excited a little bit more. But, I think, even if you’re playing well, it’s important to just not get ahead [of yourself]. Just stay in the process.

I didn’t see a whole lot of excitement. You looked like you were just calm and cruising.

Yeah, yeah. Pretty much.

And that was a good par putt on that one chip shot [that ran by twelve feet] that you had to come back on.

Yeah. Yeah.

So when you have a putt like that, do you spend any more time on it, or is it just the same routine.

No, same routine.

It seemed like you and your caddie spent a lot of time reading the greens.

Um, mmm.

Is that to get an affirmation of what you’re seeing?

I think he has the greens charted out pretty good. So, sometimes in the rush of the moment you might not see everything. So most of the time he probably affirms what I saw. But sometimes he might lean toward one side and that confirms to me, “Okay, this is pretty much where I want to go.”

It’s nice to have a sidekick. [Laughs]

Yes. [Laughs]

So anything else about your mental state as you played today? You know, in terms of your way of being out there?

Yeah, you know, I mean, the same thing. I really just try to — you know, it sounds like a stereotype — but enjoy myself out there and just stay in the process, rather than thinking about the results.

It’s not a stereotype, because if everybody could do that —

Yeah, I know, exactly. So it’s — I don’t think I manage it all the time, but I do pretty good.

So my interest, as I said last year, is, everybody knows what the stereotype is. How do you get yourself to do it.

Right. Well, there’s lot’s of little tricks and tools.

So how about some tricks?

Oh, my gosh. You’re really going down to the point here!

Well, you know, people are tired of the old bromides.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean it’s all about, like I said, you walk in the fairway and focus on your walking; you know, there’s beautiful scenery out there. Watch that. You know, feel being in the present and just the same when you’re hitting a shot. You’ve got to focus on that shot that you want to hit and not get sidetracked by where you don’t want to go.

So that’s all being in the present. I mean it’s not just, “Oh, now today I’m going to do it.” It takes practice. I mean that’s what I worked on in the off-season.

Oh, really?

Yeah.

Just like “staying in it” the whole time?

Yeah.

And what were you doing to foster that? Just doing it?

Yeah, I’m — exactly, just doing that. [Laughs] I mean, consciously doing that.

Okay, anything else?

No. That’s it.

Okay, thank you so much, Sandra.

Well, she didn’t disappoint. She was every bit as thoughtful and gracious as I experienced her last year. This is a top player in the world (World No. 35) with immense talent and who is only going to get better. (She made one more birdie on the back to finish at 5-under, one shot behind the morning wave leaders.)

Now we have a little insight on how she’s going to do it.

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